daily preciousness

Monday, June 19, 2000


There are small footprint puddles on the bare linoleum floor. They're in the pattern of my footsteps. Meandering from the diningroom to the bathroom, they reflect the sunlight as brightly as liquid mercury. The sunlight is streaming into the window that overlooks the coastline.

I took a shower to wash off the many layers of dirt, brine, salt and grit. They were deposited by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I have rented a cabin here, with friends. Erika, Dana, Jessica and David have decided to enjoy a weekend on the Cajun Bahama, as it's called.

The cabin is called Kirkland's Cove. It's on stilts, as are most of the beach houses here. The cabin is about 9 feet off the ground. Painted a bright peach, the place is cheerful and summery. The owners, Bozo and Charlie Kirkland (actual names), keep the place clean and respectable.

Our cabin peeks over the 200 yards of dunes that separate us from the gentle waves of the gulf. The back porch is a perfect perch for viewing the lights of the oil rigs that stand sentinel-like, sucking the juice out of the continental shelf, just miles away. During the day they're other-worldly and cold: reinforced steel reminders of an industrial age that one would hope to forget while swimming in the gulf waters. But at night, they offer their bright orange flames, beacon-like. They're almost like modern-day lighthouses at night, minus the charm. They exhale their modern day St. Elmo's fire in brutish bursts. These lights reflect off the water, producing a twinkling effect, not unlike the stars above them.

This morning, I woke slowly to the gray-blue sky and the "drink clear water" call of the red-winged blackbird just outside the window. I sat on my stomach, curling quietly into my rented pillow. I wondered if I'd get a closer look at the pelecanus occidentalis, the brown pelian. I also pondered over the possibility of seeing dolphins.

After a breakfast of colorful froot loops, strawberry yogurt and strong coffee, we headed out to the beach. Erika, Jessica, David, Dana and I waded out into the cool water. We made our way to where the water met our shoulders. Before long, we witnessed a graceful sight. We saw the rhythmical rising and falling dorsal fins of a group of 5 or 6 dolphins. Their close proximity was startling and exhilerating. Jessica and I let out child-like squeals and paddled the water in excitement at the first sign of dolphin. Not more than 25 feet away, the spritely creatures bobbed up and down in front of us. When it became clear that they were lingering near us for a few moments, I practiced my dolphin-speak with Erika: a sort of high-pitched chirping. (I can just picture the dolphins screeching to one another, in sardonic tones, "Oh, why can't they just evolve?")

So, I chirped, screeched and billowed my personal dialect of pretended porpoise patois. To my dismay, none of them responded. Their shiny black backs continued westward, quietly arcing over the foamy waterscape.

About 3 minutes before they had appeared, I was floating quietly on my back, otter-style. I listened intently to the sound of the water. The sound of the waves lapping up against the shore was a smooth, sandy, scraping sound. A cricket-like chorus soon augmented the scratching. I didn't realize it at the time, but I now wonder if the crickety sound was the far-off noise of the dolphin group? Possibly so. I'm no Jaques Cousteau, so I'll probably never know.

After our 11 o'clock dolphin show, I went back to the shore. Just past the high tide boundary, littered with the flotsam and jetsam of the gulf, I sat down to construct a sandcastle.

The flotsam and jetsam was mostly seaweed, driftwood and plastic refuse. I employed all three elements into the construction of my artwork.

I was determined to build an extravagant castle of impressive stature. I set out knowing that this castle would inspire all that saw her. Gnarled old fisherman in their boats, dspondent housewives on vacation, hyperactive five-year-old beach combers, all of them would look upon my creation and exclaim, "Now there's a sandcastle!"

I failed to make such an impression. But I managed instead to create a small, moderately satisfying work of natural art. A pyramidal structure, complete with a large smile and three turrets, comprised Happy Castle. If my medium had been fiberglass, and the sized doubled, Happy Castle would have been a charming addition to any miniature golf course. Of this, I am certain.

As a thematic counterpoint, I created my next project a few feet away from Happy Castle: the Hive Complex. It was a cold, militaristic piece. Stark lines and minimal ornamentation showed that this was no cheerful place. No, indeed. It was the home of the Hive people -- the sworn enemies of the Happy Castle clan.

While I didn't bother to stage any elaborate war scenarios between the two powers, I wasn't at all shocked to see Happy Castle destroyed the next morning. It was untouched by the high tide. I suspect that the warring states had emerged from my imagination and actually gone to war. Such is the power of my creative mind. And such is my curse! Overactive imaginations can be dangerous.

Soon after my hour of castle construction, I leaped over the 8-inch pile of briny orange seaweed and dipped myself back into the surf. I swam a few hundred feet out and relaxed in the refreshing rhythm of the gently lapping waves. Bobbing up and down, I floated peacefully, like a child in the womb. Buoyed on my back, I breathed slowly and looked up at the cloudy sky. By and by, a brown pelican flew by. His wings skimmed just over the water. It was a gorgeous sight. Sometimes, these birds flew alone, sometimes they traveled in V-shaped formations. Gulls and sandpipers performed fly-by maneuvers also, but in fewer numbers than the pelicans. (Maybe these other birds know that the brown pelicans are our state birds and aren't allowed to be as fabulous as them. Who knows?)

Fishermen stood not very far away from me, to the East. They patiently cast their lines out while standing chest-deep in the water. Some of them were deep bronze, a dark badge of dedication to their hobby. More than 250 types of deep-sea fish inhabit the Grand Isle area. The locals tell visitors that it's one of those "best kept secret" sort of places. While I wouldn't call it unspoiled, the place does maintain some degree of intimacy between the individual beach-lover and the natural surroundings. (And the hazy lights of the oil rigs in the distance didn't bother me very much after the first 10 minutes, either.)

Just as I was about to swim back to shore, I saw another dolphin. Obviously in a playful mood, I saw his underbelly as he did a little flipper-style backflip just above the water for me. It was a private show -- a random act of joy. "I will make him my pet and he will be my best friend and I will call him George and we will be happy together," I thought to myself.

Dana and Erika made a great lunch. We had wraps and margaritas (or, "Matheritas," named after a bar-tending friend). Delicious and delightfully intoxicating, these drinks remind me of my friend Amy because of their effect on me.

I read some Jane Eyre and took a short nap from noon to 3, in an attempt to stay out of the mid-day sun. I succeeded. The cabin's AC was a blessing.

Later that night, we enjoyed a word guessing game together, just like the settlers of the old west (except for the flourescent lighting and italian wine). We sat together and enjoyed a good and warm feeling of agape and togetherness.

As I write this journal, I think of how pleasant those moments were, on the stilted cabin overlooking the gulf. I take a mental snapshot. It's a scene that would be very difficult to recreate. We've moved apart, even in the few weeks since the trip. David and Jessica soon left Louisiana and now live in New York while David pursues his doctorate degree. I miss them already. Time spent in their company was always well-spent. Dana Watson will also move away soon, after the summer session, to be with her grandchildren. I greatly enjoyed her company on this vacation. (How many people have gone dolphin-watching with their professor?) Finally, Erika, the organizer of the trip, plans to move to Lafayette, Louisiana very soon. I will miss her cheerful spirit. Thank you, my friends, for this experience that we created and shared with one another.

During my time on Grand Isle, I kept think of Kate Chopin's relationship with the place. I thought about some of the points in her story, "The Awakening". The realization of personal destiny is a theme from the work that seemed to mesh well with the surroundings.

The starkness of the beach, the spartan landscapes -- the sheltering sky, free of menace one day while vicious the next... All these visuals seem an appropriate, if not ideal, setting for her story about finding one's way in the world.

It's ironic, in a way, that everyone on this trip soon met (or very soon will meet) with a set of crossroads in their life. I am sorry to see these people go. This trip was a kind of awakening for me about the fleeting nature of place and one's sense of belongingness to a place. Erika, Dana, Jessica and David all have left (or will soon leave) the places where they formerly belonged. At least I'll keep the thoughts of our trip recorded safely in my memories.


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